Reading the Russians

Reading the Russians

Thursday, April 1, 2021
Thursday, April 8, 2021

George Saunders in his book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, has introduced a whole new audience to some of the iconic short stories of the Russian greats, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, and Turgenev. Saunders treats readers to a master class in the form and how these stories are still relevant to our lives.

We thought we would continue the class with a Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature from USC. In our two -part series we will contextualize the works of Russian writers rooted in time, place and the Russian culture. We will then explore two stories not included in the book by Chekhov and Nabokov.

Book clubs are $40 individually or $75 for the series.

Additional stories will be sent to you before the sessions.


Thursday, April 1
Thursday, April 8

10:30 a.m. – 12 noon PDT


$40 for each book club. $75 for the two-part series.

Zoom link will be sent to attendees in registration confirmation email.


George Saunders is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of ten books, including Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the Man Booker Prize; Congratulations, by the way; Tenth of December, a finalist for the National Book Award; The Braindead Megaphone; and the critically acclaimed short story collections CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, and In Persuasion Nation. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.


From the Booker Prize–winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December comes a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves — and our world today.

For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.

In his introduction, Saunders writes, “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.


Thomas Seifrid received a B.S. in Wildlife Biology with a simultaneous major in Russian at the University of Montana in 1978. He completed his graduate study in Russian literature at Cornell University, earning his Ph.D. there in 1984. From 1982-85 he taught Russian and the Humanities at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Since 1986 he has taught in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, of which he is also presently the chair (he also serves as chair of the German Studies program). From 2018-2020 he served as director of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at USC. From 2013-14 he was president of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL). His primary scholarly interest is in the literature and culture of 20th-century Russia. His first book, Andrei Platonov. Uncertainties of Spirit (Cambridge UP 1992) was the first English-language monograph on a writer now considered to be the one of the masters of twentieth-century Russian prose. His second book, The Word Made Self: Russian Writings on Language, 1860-1930 (Cornell UP 2005) explores the philosophy of language in Russia in the early twentieth century. He has also written A Companion to Andrei Platonov’s ‘The Foundation Pit’  (Academic Studies Press 2009). His current work is on theater and conceptions of urban space in Soviet Russia. He is also avidly interested in Polish language and culture.

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